More indie digital content?
As a new Viking adventure sweeps through like a raiding warband and sets new sales records on Steam, one question arises. Is this an isolated event? Or is this a sign consumers are turning to independent content creators?
And as with any other promising emergent industry, my immediate follow-up question is: can we supercharge it?
The land of Valheim
Consumer habits have changed greatly in the past year. In entertainment, while free-to-air ails to scrap enough advertising money to survive, subscription streaming services hit record highs. This year, Activate estimates eSports are expected to only be toppled by the NFL in the US, in terms of number of viewers. Gaming is today one of the most common social activities, and spreading to more and more demographics. As a gamer myself, this is a trend that I have been noticing for more than 10 years, but COVID-19 really propelled this to the stratosphere. Digital goods are no longer a nerdy niche thing. Digital content became a mainstream market that includes films, video games and ebooks, with a global consumer base. And in a time where social distancing became the new normal, a fundamental source of mental relief and in some cases the only possible medium for social interaction.
Within the video game segment something utterly curious has been happening lately. While AAA titles are still performing very well, there is an undeniable shift in consumer behaviour that has been seeing a handful of indie titles claiming the podium. The latest example is Valheim, an absolute sales champion on Steam, being the number one sold title for 6 weeks in a row. I bought Valheim in the first week it came out and I must say it felt very refreshing. Together with myself, over 1 million people have already purchased the game. And it has not even been fully released yet. It’s still on Early Access only. On Twitch, Valheim has over 150k followers. The developer, a very small studio from Sweden called Iron Gate AB, must be considerable happy. As it happens, this is their first title ever. Fantastic!
Kick-starting your franchise
When you launch an unassuming indie game and your vision resonates with so many people, so many customers for that matter, it is only natural that you start wondering what can you do next to meet the expectations of your newly formed community. Maybe you want to present them with your next idea for a game title. Maybe you should stick to the universe you just created and produce a sequel. Perhaps you want to go beyond a sequel and expand into your new Viking franchise. You are thinking comics, a short animation film, a board game. Whatever it is, I am certain you are thinking about respecting the people that gave you a vote of confidence and present them with a new unique experience that will pave your way into becoming a brand associated with high quality entertainment that never fails to deliver. In business terms, you want to deliver increased value and keep growing. Both very respectable and legitimate aspirations.
But how will you finance your continued growth? Will you walk into the local branch of your bank and show them your Twitch numbers? Offer them your future game subscriptions as collateral? You can already guess how this will end. A form of funding independent content creators came to embrace in the last decade is crowdfunding. And even though it can be an interesting way of doing product research, even of running A/B testing on a conceptual level, it is not always the best financing option for these businesses. With crowdfunding you always have some value dilapidation to the investment amassed, because you pay the entirety of the crowdfunding fee upfront. Crowdfunding also means that you will have to run a campaign for a few weeks, advertise it, and then, if successful, wait for the funds to be transferred to your account. But perhaps the strongest issue with crowdfunding is that, once you start running your campaign, your new product enters the public domain. Perhaps earlier than you might have wished for.
Hanging from Yggdrasil
As more indie content creators entered the market, distribution channels started to consolidate. Today, Steam and Epic are two of the biggest marketplaces for games; while traction is building up on the subscription services outside the console market, with Apple launching Arcade. Whereas, on indie video content, Youtube and Twitch stand hegemonic. These channels are also the natural location to place the embedded finance fuel pump. The data these platforms have on the content creators have no parallel in any other sources. They can truly tell their saga. And embedded finance’s edge is in its rune infused underwriting. And just as Yggdrasil, the sacred tree in the Norse mythology, connected all the nine worlds, I see embedded finance as the conduit that stimulates production, distribution and retail. Moreover, given their strongly digital nature, entertainment platforms offer one of the lowest hanging fruits in this tree. For an already booming segment could see a truly revolutionary form of growth in the coming years, with our consumer habits beyond video games also starting to shift towards smaller independent producers.
Fortunately, we won’t have to sacrifice an eye, in order to get a tenuous vision of this near future. Or hang upside down, for that matter. I feel very strongly about the form of non-extractive and tailor-made credit only embedded finance can provide. And this industry could reap huge benefits from being plugged into that pipeline. There are a few pioneering platforms that are going one step ahead of crowdfunding and supporting this industry with a form of crowd financing. But what I would really like to see is the major platforms, like Steam and Twitch, closing the finance gap by offering embedded tailor-made solutions to support their content creators. Now, that would be something for the Skalds to sing about.